I am in an emotionally healthy relationship!  One that does not trigger codependency, anxiety, or clinginess in me!  This is a new thing.

I’m beginning to realize how much I appreciate the small things in a relationship.

  • A man who wants me in his life, is not afraid to say that to me and to the world, and goes to great lengths to pursue me.
  • Being able to text “I miss you” in the middle of a workday, without stopping to wonder if that’s too clingy.  Every text from me is welcomed wholeheartedly.
  • Pacing the relationship properly:  being able to enjoy the early stages of a relationship without jumping right into bed with someone.
  • Getting two or three phone calls a day from a man who wants to talk to me and hear all about my day.
  • Sweet texts at unexpected times.
  • Roses.
  • Being treated to lots of dinners, movies, and concerts, with no expectations of anything from me in return.
  • Holding hands in church.  Holding hands at dinner.  Holding hands on a walk.  Holding hands at the movies.  I love holding hands!
  • Two-hour phone conversations.
  • Being able to be a bitch accidentally, realize it, apologize for it, and move on, without it ever turning into an argument.
  • Not having to check myself for codependent, approval-seeking behavior.  I already have his approval, and he verbalizes that approval regularly.
  • Hearing every day that I’m beautiful.

I was not looking for this.  After the fairly recent pain of a broken relationship, there was no way I wanted to put myself out there to get hurt again.  However, looking for it or not, I found it, and it’s wonderful.


Choosing Differently

I’ve been thinking a lot about this “I break relationships” mentality I have carried around about myself, and I’m coming to a new conclusion.

I actually don’t break every relationship I find myself in.

Rather, I find myself in lots of unhealthy, breakable relationships.

There is something about people who, like me, were raised in dysfunctional homes, which is attracted to the “addict” personality.

Regarding alcoholics, the Big Book says:

Selfishness–self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate. Sometimes they hurt us, seemingly without provocation, but we invariably find that at some time in the past we have made decisions based on self which later placed us in a position to be hurt (Page 62).

I have found this to be true of alcoholics and addicts of all types, regardless of whether they are choosing to use their given substance at any given time.  The using might stop, but the self-centered behavior remains.  This is only my personal opinion, of course, backed up by the experiences of my Al-Anon friends to the man.  It has also unfortunately, been widely tested by me over the years, as I seem to have an attraction to people such as these–friends, work situations, spouses, and lovers alike.  But still, it is not empirical data, just personal opinion.

I have historically been attracted to people who are predisposed to attempt to manipulate my emotions and cross my boundaries.

How can I blame someone for hurting me, when I have a proven track record of putting myself with such people who are likely to hurt me?

What happens next is the broken relationship part.  I place myself in a relationship with a person whose behaviors are triggers for my unhealthy, codependent behaviors.  I then find myself constantly monitoring myself, working the steps hard, calling my sponsor frequently, and journaling for hours in an attempt to not react with unhealthy codependency when faced with those triggering behaviors.  I do not resent this, because it is good for me to practice intentionally relating in healthy ways.  However, I’m beginning to see that these types of relationships are going to be way more likely to fail.

Wouldn’t it be easier to simply not become emotionally entangled with such individuals to begin with?

Well, insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  So I’m doing something different this time around.  I’m at the very beginning, getting-to-know-you stages with a very nice gentleman, and interestingly, I’m finding his emotionally healthy, non-controlling ways strange and foreign!  There is no game playing!  He’s attracted to me, wants to be with me, and shows it by calling me regularly, either to talk at length or to simply have a two-minute “how’s your day going?” conversation.  He doesn’t disappear when I show any desire to be with him (though I don’t really have much opportunity to test this, as he calls me before I have a chance to miss him!).  He doesn’t run hot and cold.  He doesn’t try to manipulate my emotions.  I so far feel no unhealthy desire to do the “right things” or win his approval, as I have in the past with family, friend, and romantic relationships.  In short, I do not have to work hard to fight off my codependent tendencies.  They are simply not being triggered.

Obviously, I don’t know yet where this relationship will go, and I’m taking it very slow, of course.  Snail’s pace, really.  My breakup was tough, it was only six weeks ago, and I have no desire for another broken heart.  My heart still hurts from this one.  But if you’ve read my blog, you may know that I like to analyze myself, and to learn and grow from my mistakes.  It will be very interesting (and fun) to see what happens as I continue to spend more time with a man who does not tend to trigger my codependent behaviors.

Sometimes the meetings are hard to process.

I go to meetings to process my stuff.  But sometimes the meetings are hard to process.  Tonight I met a woman whose 5-month-old daughter was killed by her alcoholic husband, 4 weeks ago.  My heart breaks for her.  My pain seems petty and selfish in comparison.  Also, I wish my own children were in this state right now so I could hug them hard.

Then, a newcomer shared about being in a relationship with an alcoholic in recovery, and how she didn’t like how the relationship was changing her.  How she seemed preoccupied all the time about winning his approval.  How she sometimes caught herself trying to manipulate people and circumstances to win his approval.  How it made her feel desperate and dependent and unhappy and not herself, and she wanted to stop, because she really loves him and is afraid she is going to fuck it up.  I don’t even know where to start processing that one, except to say, sometimes you serve the newcomer, and sometimes she serves you.

Pain and Anonymity

Some people who write about alcoholism, codependency, and recovery choose to keep anonymous blogs.  I’m realizing there is wisdom in that, and I should have considered it more seriously when I started this blog in January.

During that time, my thought was that transparency is a good thing.  The more honest I am about my sins and my struggles, the more light is cast there.  The more helpful my experiences will be to others who read.  The more Father triumphs over Satan in my mundane, day-to-day struggles.

I still believe this.  But here’s the snag.  Codependency is like alcoholism in many ways, but is unlike alcoholism in a very important way:  it’s a dependence on control and an addiction to people, not a substance.  As a result, when I am writing about my struggles, I end up referring to other people.  People who may read my blog.  People whose friends and family may read my blog.  No matter how obliquely I refer to people, I often wonder whether I’ve said too much.  Whether I’ve been hurtful to a person or fanned the flames of any conflict that is happening.

In fact, sometimes I don’t even have to wonder.   Sometimes, I know I shouldn’t have posted what I post about other people.

Father has prodded me to think harder about this, to open myself up to changing in this area, and to make amends where I’m aware I need to.  Yet I have sinfully been trying to ignore this prodding.

I still have a lot of thinking and praying to do on this issue.  I’m not sure whether I need to simply be more careful, wait 24 hours after writing before posting, stop blogging altogether, begin blogging somewhere else, anonymously, or some other adjustment.  In the meantime, I have unpublished two recent posts that I, without a doubt, should never have published in the first place.  I owe the thinly-veiled subject of those posts an apology, and will do so in person when I have an opportunity to do so.

There may be other things I’ve said here that I should unpublish.  There may be other actions I need to take.  I’m hurting, I’m angry, I’m broken, and no matter how much my mind knows I can trust Father to get me through this, my flesh wants to take over, control this, and do something–anything–to stop the pain.  Because of this, I have made several terrible, hurtful choices over the past few weeks.

My constant prayer of late has been for my pain to go away.  I still can’t help but pray that, but now my prayer is also that I will get better and better at surrendering everything to Father, even my pain.


a·ban·don  (-bndn)

tr.v. a·ban·doneda·ban·don·inga·ban·dons

1. To withdraw one’s support or help from, especially in spite of duty, allegiance, or responsibility; desert: abandon a friend in trouble.
2. To give up by leaving or ceasing to operate or inhabit, especially as a result of danger or other impending threat:abandoned the ship.
3. To surrender one’s claim to, right to, or interest in; give up entirely. See Synonyms at relinquish.
4. To cease trying to continue; desist from: abandoned the search for the missing hiker.
5. To yield (oneself) completely, as to emotion.

Abandonment is a central issue in my life.  I don’t want it to be, I didn’t ask for it to be, but there it is nonetheless.

Many important people in my life have abandoned me over the years.  Some of them fall squarely into definition #1 of abandon:  “To withdraw one’s support or help from, especially in spite of duty, allegiance, or responsibility; desert.”  A prime example would be my biological father.  Also, my second husband falls into that category.

Others really fit more into definition #3:  “To surrender one’s claim to, right to, or interest in; give up entirely.  See Synonyms at relinquish.”

When I say people have abandoned me, it doesn’t need to mean they are at fault, or that they had any sort of duty to stay.  The vast majority of my failed relationships – family, friend, or romantic – were abandoned in a very benign way.  Nobody was abdicating any sort of responsibility by walking away.

Regardless, to the one abandoned, #1 and #3 feel largely the same.  As a result, I don’t abandon (#5) myself to a relationship very often.  I don’t trust that someone won’t leave.  I don’t trust that Father will take care of me if he does leave.  I live with walls built, and very seldom let anyone inside the walls.

I make a good show of pretending to let people in.  I’ve conducted entire relationships from within those walls.  I seemingly tell secrets.  I have intimate relations.  I serve and care and remember.  But in reality, I have not abandoned myself to the person or the relationship.  I very carefully maintain emotional distance, so that when I am abandoned, it will not hurt badly.  Because in my 40 years of experience, abandonment is an inescapable fact of life.

This learned behavior, this coping mechanism, does not serve me well.  For example, I irrationally feel abandoned when my children visit their father out-of-state for several weeks at a time.  My children have not even remotely abandoned me!  While they are not physically present, they still love me, we communicate frequently, and they are most definitely coming back to eat my food and mess up my house again in the very near future!  It is not logical to feel abandoned when they are not physically home in their beds.  There is no reason to let it color my moods and actions.  And yet, I do, and it does.

Recently, I was in a very close relationship where I did not expect to be abandoned (#3).  I have no explanation for why this one was different.  I always expect relationships to end eventually, because in my world, they always do.  Forever is a myth, or something that happens to other people.  I have no explanation for why I felt that this one was different, that I would not be abandoned.  There was no stated commitment.  It was not a marriage, where people actually verbally commit to forever, nor was it anything like one.  I did not make a conscious decision to believe the relationship would not end.  This all happened on an entirely visceral level.

Resultantly, I was completely surprised when it, in fact, did end.  Shocked.  Floored.  Did not see that coming.

So much so that at first I did not even believe it was ending.  I had no category for that; therefore, it must not be happening.

It’s one thing to be smacked in the face when you expect it and are braced for it.  A sucker punch is something completely different.  I was completely and totally unprepared for the blow.

I’m not sure I have ever been more angry with myself.  The tapes playing in my head are that I should have protected myself from the pain.  I should not have gotten so close.  What in the world was I thinking? Why did I allow someone to get close enough to hurt me?

This is worse than my sinful self-reliance of the past.  This is berating myself for not having sinful self-reliance!

When I think about moving forward, about learning to relate healthily to others through the grace and mercy of Father, I can’t wrap my head around what that will look like.  I’ve lived both extremes, failure to trust and utter, complete trust, and neither of them has worked for me.

I think the takeaway is that I don’t get to control it.  Father drives this bus, and I’m to hold on, go where he takes me, and follow his lead.  I don’t know who will stay and who will go, who I can trust and who I cannot, or what my life will look like tomorrow or in ten years.  I can’t count on people to stay, and yet I can’t withhold myself from them in an effort to self-protect.  Both avenues are sinful.

The key, I think, is to take my eyes off the people entirely, and focus them on Father.  Simple, but definitely not easy.

I’m back…

Back from my crazy weekend, and too tired to write too much tonight, but checking in to say it was a pretty darned good weekend.

I was late to my family reunion in Chillicothe, Ohio, due to first sleeping through my alarm, and then construction and detours turning a five-hour drive in to a 6 1/4-hour one.  Being late is typically one of my triggers – after all, it makes me out of control and imperfect!  Being stuck in traffic is also one of my triggers.  I was, however, able to hang onto my serenity.  Also, I got to see people whom I love and whom I never get to see, such as my big brother, my Grandma, and my sister/niece/nephew.

Later that day, I drove an hour to drop off the boys at their father’s house, but nobody was home!  And nobody was answering their cell phones.  Finally, I thought to ask Jody if he had Katie’s (dad’s girlfriend) number, and he said no, but he had Carlen’s (dad’s girlfriend’s son LOL) so I said call him!  Carlen was with his father, but was able to give Jody his mom’s number and tell us that they were out shopping together.  I talked to dad and agreed to drive yet another 30 minutes north to meet him in the parking lot of a local park to transfer the children.  Also, he still has not done something important regarding residual joint property that I asked him (and he agreed) to do three weeks ago.  All that, and still feeling only mildly annoyed, and still serene.

I said goodbye to the kiddos, and drove to my mother’s house to spend the night.  Talk about your major serenity buster!  If anything was going to ruin my serenity, it was going to be this.  However, while I did catch myself several times saying things calculated to garner her approval, I was not disappointed at all when I did not receive it.  This is definitely progress in my recovery.

I feel the need to add, all this has nothing to do with my mother or her actual behavior.  Mom was actually very loving and attentive.  She fed me, she chatted with me, we exchanged book titles, watched TV, and played with the dog together.  This is not about Mom, it’s about my attitudes and thought patterns about Mom.

I was rewarded for maintaining all this serenity with two stops on the way back to Michigan at lovely antique malls, where I shopped until I was ready to drop.  This is my happy place.  Here is a picture of my haul, in case you’re into such things.

Blue distressed chair (very sturdy), orange plank with coathooks, pyrex casserole in pink daisy, pyrex casserole in flamingo, pyrex chartreuse small mixing bowl, pyrex flamingo round cake pan, pyrex chartreuse square cake pan, ice cream scoop, sieve, cast iron skillet, beautiful and colorful Coca Cola tray.

All that to say…I am, as usual, grateful for my program, grateful for my continued recovery, grateful for my heavenly Father, and grateful for antique malls!

And now, to leave you with a song.  Apropos of nothing.  I just really, really like this song, and have been playing it loud and singing my head off all weekend, whenever the opportunity presented itself.  Enjoy!

Aging well

I will turn 40 next month.  I don’t know why I’ve been so introspective about this.  After all, I’ve not given other “milestone” birthdays much thought.

I gave birth to my second son twelve days before my 30th birthday.  Caught up in the all-consuming days that were motherhood to a toddler and a newborn, and living with a husband who did not generally give gifts, I am not sure I even noticed my birthday pass.

On my 21st birthday, I was newly divorced, living in a crappy, roach-infested walk-up in Circleville, Ohio, working 8-5 as a receptionist for a plastics factory, and working many nights 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. at Burger King.  I had no friends in that town, and very few friends, period, as I was in transition from married life to single life, from school at a small-town branch campus to school at the massive Ohio State University, and I honestly worked too much that summer to even consider making a friend.  No one took me out to a bar on my 21st birthday, and I honestly don’t remember the day at all.

The day I turned 18, I packed all my belongings into my boyfriend’s Ford Escort and left my parents’ house while they were at work, walking away from a tuition and room/board scholarship at Capital University, and walking away from my parents and my sisters, ages 15 and 4, whom I would not see for the next two years.  I didn’t know that I was headed for a two-year marriage characterized by abuse, infidelity, and poverty.

None of those birthdays register clearly in my memory, yet as 40 looms closer I ponder.  It feels like a new stage in my life.  It feels like a transition.  A turning point.  A clean slate.

The thing all those birthdays have in common is chaos, the kind of chaos that goes hand-in-hand with codependency.  When I left home at 18, I was ill-equipped to deal with living life, loving people, and chasing Father.  I did not have life skills; instead, I had coping skills – ways to cope with the chaos that living in dysfunction brings.  For years, my adulthood was characterized by chaos, because when there was no chaos, my coping skills were not necessary.  Unwittingly, I created familiar chaos in every situation I encountered.

As my 40th birthday approaches, I can say with certainty that my life is characterized by the opposite of chaos.

My serenity has nothing to do with the circumstances in my life.  Full credit goes to my Father in heaven, who lavishes unmerited favor upon me despite my emotional brokenness, and to the program which is Al-anon.

As a matter of fact my circumstances, at the time of this writing, are not making me happy.  Someone I love very much is not in my life now, and though he is in poor health, I can be neither a comfort nor a help.  I miss him acutely every single day.  Many plans I had for the summer must be altered to exclude him.  Furthermore, I will be attending a family reunion this weekend, and being with my family of origin is always a stressful time for me.  Finally, my children will be spending the next 3 1/2 weeks a state away, visiting their father, and I have the strong, conflicting feelings of both needing the break and dreading it.

No, my circumstances are not all rainbows and unicorns.  Serenity is not synonymous with happiness.  The difference for me, at 40, is that I am no longer subconsciously manufacturing circumstances that damage my serenity.  I am not looking to create chaos or magnify the chaos that already exists.  Serenity flows not from circumstance, but from knowing that my Father is with me despite external circumstances, and from knowing that I can trust him with the things I cannot control.

My friend played her guitar and sang a song for me the other night, and I cried while she sang, because the song’s lyrics reminded me that 40 is coming quickly, and it does not look like I had planned for it to look.  Now, I am choosing to listen to it and instead, allow it to remind me that, as always, Father’s plans for me will turn out better than my own…even when I cannot comprehend how this can be so.